Christmas creativity: Don’t stress! Holiday a great time to experiment
Thanksgiving, check! Now on to Christmas, oh my! There are 12 months in a year, and we cram the two most festive holiday events into less than 30 days. Is this torture or what?
As the years go by, I hear more conversations about people experiencing stress and anxiety from all that is expected while celebrating the fall and winter holidays.
Recently, I have heard statements of relief about not having to host and a lot of chitchat about vacationing to avoid the obligatory rituals. These conversations are often motivated by the pressure of planning and preparing a big meal, cleaning the house, organizing the event and, in some cases, putting up friends and family members.
When it is written down, it does appear daunting even for type A personalities such as myself. I get it. However, I also get that the holiday season is a celebration of life, health, family and friendships.
What better way to celebrate anything than to gather around a beautiful communal feast of holiday fare and let the food nourish our bodies and the camaraderie nourish our souls.
Our Thanksgiving is never stressful as far as the menu is concerned. I am not bragging here. It is simple because my family l-i-t-e-r-a-l-l-y wants the same menu each year: turkey, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad and dessert.
The rules have been written for decades, and I just have a little freedom to put my unique spin on the final execution. A little truffle butter here, a little jalapeo there — sorry, Mom, I won’t do that again — but not enough to rock the boat, sort of. If we have extra guests, I make more. Done.
Christmas is a different story. We have prime rib, bonein for me, and that’s where tradition stops and the flood gates open.
Year after year, I experiment with creative sides, from savory bread puddings, to quinoa salads to sauted greens and roasted roots.
I don’t know if you call it stress or not, but the freedom of choice can be overwhelming. Of course, it was explained to me that in our house, if you serve prime rib or any roast, it must be accompanied by au jus, which requires a horseradish sauce, and mashed potatoes are a must.
I have been told more than once that you cannot dip bites of perfectly cooked medium rare beef into roasted potatoes.
So I guess 75 percent of the menu is complete. However, I still feel the need to experiment and celebrate the joys of putting on “the perfect, photo-worthy meal.”
I asked my kids this week what they were looking forward to for Christmas dinner. In unison, they said, “Crme Brule.”
I restated my question and tried to clarify I was asking about dinner not dessert. I got the same answer. So, dessert is covered.
To balance out all the heavier parts of the menu, I like to offer some lighter options such as festive salads and healthy grains, or as my kids call it, “mom food.”
This year, I am turning to some sides I thought would pair well with pomegranates as my daughter loves everything about them.
Pomegranates are funny fruit. I find them amazingly festive. The glistening arils (seeds) remind me of tiny Christmas lights waiting to be strung up.
I really don’t recall eating them growing up. As a parent, I think I know why. If you are not a fan of red stains, it may be best to avoid them.
That being said, a few years back I discovered a trick that has relieved any fears of inconvenience when my daughter not so discretely puts her favorite fruit in the shopping cart.
Fill a large mixing bowl with water. Wash and cut each end off of the pomegranate. Once the ends are cut off you will see five natural sections that can be cut out. Place one pomegranate section at a time in the bowl of water, carefully pop out the arils into the water. The arils will sink to the bottom while the white inner pulp and remaining peel of the pomegranate will float to the top.
Repeat with the remaining sections of pomegranate. Remove the floating pulp and strain out the seeds.
Our Christmas menu will be accentuated with a Winter Pomegranate Salad with Fig Vinaigrette, bulgur wheat festively tossed with scallions, mint and pomegranate arils, and Avocado Crme Filled Eggs — new favorite — topped off with pomegranate seeds.
I may even get crazy and serve up some pomegranate cosmopolitans or martinis.
I am not expecting that my health conscious sides will be memorable enough to be requested next year, but that is OK as I am sure I will be moving on to another fun ingredient to highlight.
AVOCADO CREME EGGS CHRISTMAS STYLE
Recipe adapted from “Gather: The Art of Paleo Entertaining,” 2013
12 eggs, hard boiled and peeled
1 tablespoon creme fraiche
Salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon minced chives
Cut each egg in half. Remove cooked yolks and place in a food processor. Add avocado and creme fraiche. Pulse to combine well.
Add salt, pepper and garlic powder and blend to combine. Taste for seasoning.
Place avocado mixture in a plastic bag and cut one corner out. Pipe the avocado creme into egg halves. Garnish with chives and pomegranate arils.
BULGUR WHEAT SALAD WITH POMEGRANATE SEEDS
1 cup bulgur wheat
2-4 scallions, green and white parts thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2-3 tablespoons good quality olive oil
Course kosher salt
Fresh cracked black pepper
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 cup pomegranate seeds
Cook bulgur according to package directions. Let cool slightly and place in medium mixing bowl. Let cool slightly and place in medium mixing bowl.
Add in scallions, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Taste for seasoning. Toss in raisins and pomegranate seeds.
The salad can be made ahead of time and is best served at room temperature.
WINTER POMEGRANATE SALAD WITH FIG BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE
2 tablespoons fig preserves
1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil
Course kosher salt
Fresh cracked black pepper
Mixed salad greens
Orange segments or Clementines
Combine fig preserves, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper in a small bowl or jar. Whisk to combine and taste for seasoning.
Place desired amount of mixed greens on a flat platter or shallow bowl. Arrange orange segments on top and sprinkle with pomegranate arils and walnuts.
Drizzle the salad dressing over the top of the salad and serve.